Towards a Realignment of the Left

The following article has been co-written by James Bloodworth, Martyn Hudson and Prof. Alan Johnson. The project that is proposed in this article is not one that has any direct links to Labour Internationalists as it is focussed on the wider political left and not just the UK Labour Party. However, the authors have agreed to have this posted on this site.

Some of us think a ‘Stop the War’ shaped, anti-western foreign policy is at best a useless pose and at worst a sell out of our natural allies around the world (democrats, liberals, feminists, free trade unionists, two-staters), and a betrayal of our deepest values (democracy, anti-totalitarianism, gender, sexual and racial equality, liberty, national self-determination, internationalism and human flourishing). This left looks to ‘proxy’ forces, like its Islamist and Stalinist friends, to win its battles for it, without understanding that these forces are the enemies of internationalism.

We do not just ‘disagree’ with the Corbyn-Milne-Stop the War-Livingstone tendency. We think of these people as our ‘enemies’ in the same sense that union-busting and environment-despoiling bosses are. While we think ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is not such a bad maxim, and we reject ill-conceived neoconservative interventionism of the Iraq kind, we are internationalists and we do not walk by on the other side. We stand with the democrats fighting the Islamists and with the human rights campaigners fighting the authoritarians. We accept the responsibility to protect. We revere the French anti-Nazi and pro-European socialist Leon Blum, we cheered on Hilary Benn’s anti-fascist speech, and we read essays such as Nick Cohen’s What’s Left?, Paul Berman’s Power and the Idealists, and Michael Walzer’s ‘What is Left Internationalism?’

However.

Some of us *also* think that a ‘social neoliberal’ or third way economic and social policy has failed to offer a genuinely progressive response to the ills of neoliberal global capitalism: deregulation and the unshackling of antisocial corporate power and spread of environmental degradation; financialisation, the age of greed, the banking crisis and ‘austerity’; privatisation, the decay of the public realm, the collapse of social housing, the spread of social cruelty, the spectacular rise in inequality and the fraying of the commons; the assault on trade union and workplace rights; and the rise and rise of a crass bottom-lineism, a possessive individualism that is slowly coarsening the culture, creating a one-dimensional world in which rich individuality is strangled. We believe we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. We want a great fight for a radical rebalancing of power and resource in the world: global social democracy. We read essays such as Sheri Berman’s The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe’s 20th Century, Thomas Piketty’s The Economics of Inequality, and we support websites like LabourStart.

Moreover.

Some of us in the UK think both of these things at once. We say, ‘Neither Blair nor Corbyn, but global social democracy and left internationalism’, so to speak. Inspired by democratic socialist thinkers such as Norman Geras, Irving Howe, Hal Draper and, more remotely, Theodor Adorno, Victor Serge and Albert Camus, we are committed to new ways of thinking about critical theory and solidarity.

Some of us who think like this believe it is now time to create a ‘little magazine’ – an open online journal of ideas in which to think and to discuss and, in time – who knows – to contribute something of real value to the realignment of the Left.

We have two modest hopes.

First, that we can help develop a critique of the two ways in which the left has lost its way. We mean a genuine critique, in the sense of a genuine overcoming, by a hard-won critical understanding of the actual conditions of emergence – preeminently, defeat; but also some fatal theoretical weaknesses – and an appreciation of the partial truths (for they exist too), of the anti-western and social-neoliberal Lefts.

Second, to contribute with others to the conversation about the renewal of a rational democratic Left. We believe that left internationalism and global social democracy form a political horizon; no more, but no less. We have an intuition that by trying to move towards that horizon, in theory and practice, the Left might do some good. We believe the Left should be the inheritor of the radical enlightenment and the promise of the democratic revolutions. We are universalists and the name of our desire is the ‘planetary humanism’ of Primo Levi and Paul Gilroy. We believe with the late Norman Geras that utopianism remains a valuable mode of thinking for the Left. But we also believe in winning elections.

We are fully aware that we stand in the rubble of the historic projects of the Left. We know everything is to be reasoned through, not least the precise meaning of, and the nature of the relationship between, ‘global social democracy’ and ‘Left internationalism’. Much of our tradition – which we see as stretching back to the Putney Debates of the English Civil War, when radicals began the hard work of thinking freedom in its relation to the social question – has to be rescued-through-renewal (trade unionism, for one thing; the welfare state, for another) while much else has to be imagined for the first time, in the utterly new conditions of these new times.

If you find yourself in broad agreement with the thrust of this statement, let one of us know. Stick it on Facebook and Twitter if you can. If you want to help practically, and/ or if you have ideas about the contributors and the content you’d like to see in the journal itself, get in touch.

James Bloodworth, Martyn Hudson and Alan Johnson.

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